DH cropLabour Hame Editor Duncan Hothersall says batting off systemic failure into an “inquiry” is simply not good enough. The Scottish Government needs to learn what it means to govern.


The tragic deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill are heartbreaking. We all saw the two families’ desperation when it was a missing persons case, and we all felt their horror and disbelief as it emerged that the police had in fact been informed of the accident in which they were involved.

I listened this morning to Michael Matheson, the Justice Secretary, on BBC Good Morning Scotland. Much can be learned from a government under pressure or in crisis. Some rise to the occasion, as did Alex Salmond’s government after the Glasgow Airport attacks, setting aside Westminster rivalry. Some, I am afraid, do not.

It is right that one aspect of the response to this situation should be an inquiry into how it happened. We need to learn the lessons to try to ensure no other families suffer this again. We also need to establish the full facts of what happened for the families. But Mr Matheson says the inquiry will be asked to provide “an accurate picture of capacity and capability at present” of Police Scotland’s emergency call handling.

What? I’m sorry, Cabinet Secretary, but the “capacity and capability” of a central part of Police Scotland’s operations should be something you track to the minutest detail on a daily basis. A review likely to take several weeks to establish how fit Police Scotland is for purpose? Away and find me the real Justice Secretary, because you clearly aren’t it.

What’s next from this Scottish Government, so divorced from actual governing that they don’t know what they do or how they do it? Angela Constance launching an inquiry to find out how many schools there are in Scotland and what teachers are doing in them? Shona Robison launching a probe into hospital staffing levels?

This. Is. Your. Job. The people of Scotland have placed their trust in you to deliver the services we need, not to stand at arms length and then empathise when things go wrong. You shouldn’t need an inquiry to find out the capacity and capability of your emergency call services. Especially when problems with capacity and capability have been flagged for months and can be traced back directly to funding decisions made by your department.

After eight years, the SNP in government seem to have become so wedded to the idea that everything bad that happens can be blamed on someone else – usually Westminster, but sometimes local authorities, as long as they are Labour-led – that they have genuinely stopped governing in the traditional sense. When something good happens, like the recent drop in various types of crime, they happily claim credit (despite crime falling across the developed world at pretty much the same rate). But when something bad happens, the responsibility is at least two, perhaps three, desks away.

And I’m afraid that Labour’s seemingly endless series of internal debates as we lurch from leadership election to leadership election has meant a woeful lack of holding to account in recent years. Good government should not need a good opposition, but bad government does, and this is turning out to be a terrible government.

Coming up, a CalMac privatisation that the SNP will wash their hands of; more problems at a hospital that can’t possibly be the responsibility of the government that built it; a failure on class sizes which must be the fault of either Westminster local councils, but definitely not Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

This morning Michael Matheson expressed his full confidence in Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland. Someone has to, I suppose. It was but the latest in a damning series of denials of reality that leaves Scots almost without a government in the usual sense.

Because what can you really call Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet of empathetic but apparently powerless faces? It’s not a bloody government, and Scots deserve better.